Challenge: Ten years ago, companies controlled almost all of their messaging because there were so few additional or alternative channels from which the general public could gather information to form an opinion. Social networks didn’t exist and media outlets controlled the majority of the print and online content (outside of comments, editorials, and letters to the editor sections). With the popularity of social networks, readers today share their own product reviews, seek out opinions, post personal blogs, and comment on articles that draw numerous additional links, references and likes. As a result, customers are engaging peers first to learn about new solutions, read reviews, and evaluate products.
Forrester estimates between 66% and 90% of the customer journey is completed before ever even engaging with the vendor. If customers get most of the way through the sales process without engaging the vendor, do vendors really control their message? It is the leading advocates on social networks who control much of the early stage buying experience. So what’s a company to do?
Customers are continuously evaluating your product and sharing their thoughts on the web. They have more information earlier in the sales process. Consider Amazon. It is a great ecommerce site that also makes it easy for shoppers to look at reviews in support of making a purchase, which is crucial in the customer buying process. In the enterprise space, there are IT communities dedicated to sharing reviews with colleagues, such as Spiceworks and IT Toolbox with millions of members. There are also LinkedIn groups and well-informed bloggers who focus solely on these topics. With the abundance of well-researched, end-user generated content, it is no surprise that the majority of the customer journey happens before customers engage with your website.
So what is a company to do to control the message its customers and prospects get? Employ active social listening to hear what is being said about products and services. Think of this as continuous customer engagement: Engaging with customers before, during and after they purchase your products. In many ways, this is back to the basics of developing products customer really want by carefully listening to their needs and desires. (See my post on developing a customer persona.) As you review this straightforward and truthful, often in-your-face customer feedback, look for the common themes, words, and phrases. The comments that keep rising to the top most often are those that customers value most from your product or service. This is gold and should be a core part of your outbound messaging.
Does your outbound messaging need to match this precisely? Certainly not. Your messaging should lead your customers from your current product offering to your planned product direction. However, by leveraging the same words and phrases your customer’s use in your outbound messaging creates a virtuous cycle in which what customers hear from you is what they they later experience with your product. This alignment propels and extends your activities. It also fortifies your brand by delivering on your promises.
Lesson: Messaging alignment between what your customers are saying about you and what you are saying about your own products creates a virtuous messaging cycle and builds brand trust and authenticity.